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Musician friends of mine are always surprised when I tell them I am a fan of composer Anton Webern. After all, his music is spiky and to many ears it seems discordant.
I was first introduced to this music when I studied music theory in college. Many consider this music to be “lab coat music” because it is based on the 12 tone theory and applications devised by Arnold Schoenberg, the head of this school of thought.
Webern became one of my favorites because of the economy and brevity of his compositions. The idea of trying to say a lot with a little has always resonated with me.
I fully realize this music is not for everyone and even I don’t listen to it on a daily basis but I maintain a high personal regard for Webern. His life was not an easy one because he stuck to his guns and only wrote the music he felt a passion for.
His life ended abruptly and tragically when he was shot by mistake by an American soldier on the porch of his daughter’s house in Austria just after the war. As he lit a cigar after dinner that evening the flash of the match caught the eye of a rather trigger-happy young man on patrol. Luckily he left us his well-crafted and pointed music.
Inspiration is something that I think is commonly misunderstood. Many people think that music is written when a flood of ideas comes to the writer like a thunderbolt. Once in a great while this sort of thing may happen but the old adage about inspiration being more about perspiration holds true.
Personally I have to write four pieces of music which are discarded in order to come up with one “keeper.” My favorite composer Maurice Ravel spoke at length about this process. When you listen to the Adagio from the G Major Piano Concerto the music seems to flow from an endless stream of easy inspiration yet Ravel said he struggled with this movement and it “nearly killed him.”
I am glad that listeners are not aware of this aspect of the construction of music. It is all part of the illusion that makes for the occasional magic.
I was busy whispering a detailed explanation of Schopenhauer’s Philosophy of the “Will” into the eager ear of a young lady in the backseat of my 56′ Ford when it happened. Believe me, it took quite a jolt to disengage my attention at that exact moment. After all, I was only 18 years old and my red corpuscles were pounding out four to a bar like Gene Krupa in overdrive. But even through the steamed-up windows it was clear to see. I was in love.
“What is that?” I shrieked as I jumped into the front seat and turned up the volume of the car radio. “Who is that guitar player? I love it.”
When the song ended the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation) announcer proclaimed it was “Jango Rinehart”. I searched through the glove box to find a pen or pencil to jot down the name.
The very next day I piloted my Ford 70 miles due south to a section of Minneapolis known as Dinky Town to rummage through the record bins.
An indolent clerk peered up from his intense perusal of a catalog displaying every model and type of hookah known to civilization just long enough to correct me on the name with a condescending sneer. “The name is spelled like this,” he said, as he scrawled Django Reinhardt onto a coffee-stained napkin.
Armed with several Django records I began my study of his fretwork. The music was a bit old-timey for my taste at that time and songs like “The Sheik of Araby” didn’t exactly turn my crank but the guitar playing was unlike anything I had ever heard.
There are watershed moments in every life and this was one for me. To say Django influenced my music would be complete understatement. I still listen to his recordings regularly and play his music every week.
But all these years later, I can’t even remember the girl’s name.
S.J. Perelman is one of my favorite artists.
Mr. Perelman was a humorist and writer. He essentially wrote short pieces in a very distinctive style.
His use of language and skill with words were and are highly regarded.
Many of his pieces (or “feuiletons” as he called them) appeared in the New Yorker and later were gathered into collections to create his books.
He was a miniaturist and I can relate to that. Many of my songs are short and concise and this sort of precision and focus resonates with me.
My favorite Perelman books are “Westward Ha” and “Acres and Pains” but, truth be told, I love anything by S.J.Perelman.
I have tried my hand at writing short humorous pieces as a hobby but I am so under the spell of the master that my attempts always seem like copies of his work.
If you don’t know his work I highly recommend it. I laugh out loud when I read his stuff and laughter is something we all need very much.